Saturday, January 31, 2009

Not loading, and loading

So yesterday I had a cruddy non-horse day, then I went to the field. I was going to take Dixie over to the main barn and ride in the arena and try to get that elusive floaty connection one more time.


She wouldn't load. I tried a few aimless things. I almost burst into tears, and I was momentarily overwhelmed by the urge to beat the snot out of my horse. (Note: I didn't, and I wouldn't have, but I did have that horrible shake-the-baby-til-it- stops-crying feeling.) I realized that I wasn't mentally ready to deal with that stupid willful wanton lovely highspirited intelligent mare.

I stayed cool. I put her in crossties, brushed her down well, picked out all four feet. Well, I picked out three feet but she would not stop trying to kick me with her back left foot long enough for me to clean it out, so I settled on just holding the leg up til she quit flailing for half a second, then releasing it. It was important to me that she did not completely win the day.

Then I went home, drank a lot of beer, and played Guitar Hero III with my husband til I felt better.

After a good night's sleep, I felt much more centered and quietly determined to load. that. horse. I followed mugwump's method and it worked absolutely perfectly. Long rope run through the front of the trailer. Very calm body language, lunge whip tap-tap-tap-tapping her hocks whenever she quit trying to load. Took all of 90 seconds. I highly recommend it, if you're in the correct frame of mind.

Anyway, I loaded her head-on into the trailer. I've been loading her, letting her turn around (it's 2-horse with no center divider), and tying her facing backwards. I wanted to see how she'd do facing forward. Dixie, uh, she can't ride in that trailer facing forward.

She immediately started pawing, which is her default behavior for when she's annoyed. But she's a Walking Horse and she paws a good two feet off the ground when she gets going. I stood on the side of the trailer, watching her paw, wondering if this was really safe or would she actually no surely she wouldn't surely she has the good sense not to OH FUCK NO! (Anybody know where this is going?)

She put her left foot in the feed manger. The feed manger is more than waist high, with a 3" lip. This was completely horrible and almost panic-inducing because it was actually a real crisis. I stayed cool, and my friend Mark helped me un-fuck her. I reached in through one window and lifted her leg UP as high as I could to clear the lip and he reached in beside me and pulled BACK as hard as he could. Then I unclipped her head, let her turn her happy ass around, and tied her facing backwards.

Then we trailered down the road to my parents. I unloaded her and let her snort and stare and walk in circles around me and eat grass, while I talked to my parents for a while. Then I loaded her again - same system, but it took maybe 30 seconds this time - and we calmly trailered back to the field.

Other notes: K TOOK POPPY ON A TRAIL RIDE! I rode Champ, her daughter T rode Goblin, and Poppy was perfectly content to walk in the middle. More importantly, K was perfectly comfortable on him. She's getting there!

And Cersei got a deer leg to play with - at the field only thank you! My dad's friend got another deer for him, and Dad (upon request) had the processors save the lower legs for dog toys. It's soooo gross and she loves it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cersei clicker update

I like talking about my dog almost as much as my horses, so here's a Cersei update.

Yesterday, I taught her paw. She knows touch as "put your nose on something," but I wanted a different cue for "put your paw on something." Took a little work to get the first paw, but after that I just reinforced the hell out of the behavior for about 20 clicks, then added the verbal cue and kept reinforcing it.

Teaching a behavior that she doesn't already kind of know is new to me. You're supposed to first capture/encourage the behavior in whatever way seems best. Click, reward, repeat - many times. After she'll offer the behavior, start saying/doing the cue while she does it, then right before she does it. She needs a lot of reinforcement at first - you want to seem like a doggie slot machine. Once you get the behavior on cue, you can refine it or increase duration.

Anyway, she already knew or was strongly inclined to naturally perform her previous tricks. I taught her to sit the classic way - treat in hand, move hand over head til butt goes down, give treat. Can't remember how I taught her to settle (lay down), but probably just from telling her "settle" right after she'd done it. And every time she rolls on her back it's sooooo cute we just shriek about how she's crazy!! But she's a mouthy dog, not a pawing dog, so getting her to put a paw on the target was new for both of us!

Today we worked on paw again - including pawing the dreaded nail dremel, which is much less dreaded these days - and broke up the routine with her other tricks. Then I decided to try free-shaping a behavior. She was laying down, about at my 8 o'clock, facing the area right in front of me (where the target had been). I waited til she happened to look away from me, to her left, and clicked. She got really excited - and immediately looked left again, to see if that magical click would happen again! It did! Wonder of wonders! We repeated that a few times.

Then one of the cats (Bond, the evil fluffy one) snuck in the kitchen. Graham hissed and the cat ran out and Graham shot him with the Nerf revolver. The cat ran away to sulk and Cersei got up to investigate the Nerf cartridge - so I clicked her for touching it. She thought that was pretty exciting, so she walked back and forth between the Nerf and me, getting treats and going to touch it again. We finished with a settle and a jackpot. End on a positive note!

I was excited that I free-shaped a behavior, even though it was really small. It's a harder thing to teach (requires better timing), and it's a little harder for some dogs to learn that way. There's a bunch of different directions I could take "turn your head to the left" - just off the top of my head, I could teach her to spin on command, or I could teach her to turn left and head away from me. (The latter would be really useful if she loses sight of a ball but I know where it is; it's a valuable retriever skill.)

And I was really happy I got her to target something that wasn't within arm's reach of me. Dogs (and horses, for that matter) don't generalize well, and she'd previously only touched things I had very near me. If I got her touching a cardboard box, then shoved the box five feet away from me, she'd get confused and "lose" her ability to touch it. Walking away and touching the Nerf and walking back to me was a breakthrough :)


I rode the big guy today. We did about an hour of walk-trot stuff. This time I carried the real dressage whip. I think Daun was right, long ago, when she said some horses just need to know you have the whip - he is definitely more responsive to my leg when he knows I've got a whip to back it up.

Mainly I concentrated on me. Keeping my hands still, following him with my seat, keeping my legs still and giving aids correctly. This shit is hard! Worthwhile, but hard.

My dressage book said to use the whip as an aid for yourself - that if your hands are correct and your legs are correct, the whip will "lie close behind and nearly parallel to the rider's lower leg, resting lightly across the thigh." This seemed like great advice, and it kept part of my brain constantly checking in with my hands.

My legs are, amazingly, improving. They don't flop around like they used to, and my toes point forward most of the time. The bad habit I'm concentrating on right now is giving aids with the inside of my legs, not my calves. I'm getting better at that. And I have a tendency to ask for a trot with a squeeze, properly, and then if I don't get a response I turn my toes out and boot the horse with my heels. Heels are a good attention-getter but I need to work on delivering the same energy with a proper squeeze, I suppose.

I found a new (unapproved) use for the whip, too. There's a long straight flat stretch in the back part of their pasture - I trot Poppy away from his buddies, turn, and walk back. There are two little paths that turn left, eventually circling back toward his buddies, so he tries to dart down them whenever we trot away. I kinda remember I could use the whip for more than a hand-position-checking-device, so I started whapping him in the shoulder when he'd try to veer down the little paths. They weren't even hard whacks, just a "hey I mean it don't do that" reminder, and it worked great.

My elbows at the trot are improving too. Most of the time, anyway :)

After our ride I fed Poppy a half-scoop of his grain. The light was right and I got a good picture of a Happy (Dirty) Percheron. (I know, I'm too lazy to be a real dressage rider - I brushed where the saddle went and left the rest of him muddy.)

Happy Poppy


Tuesday was pretty tough.

See, there's a couple different possibilities which would lead to my husband needing to move back to Ohio. There's always the fear that the recession will eat his job and he'll need a new one at a different company. And there are no jobs for his particular speciality down here. I'm not going to go in to it too deeply, but Memphis is a third-tier market with only a handful of his positions, and they don't open up very often, and they're not ideal for him anyway. Anyway, I've been coming to grips with the probability that we'll be packing up and moving away pretty soon.

Tuesday I got down about it. Felt very sorry for myself - why can't things work out like I think I want, I'm going to freeze to death next winter, I'm going to have to take another bar exam, I'll lose my friends and my beautiful southern countryside, blah blah blah. I sniveled for a while and went out and rode Champ. He's my emotional rock, whether he likes it or not.

We had a lovely ride. It was a very foggy grey day. The first big lake had a small flock of mallards, who took off and squawked away, and two Canada geese, who honked and swam in circles and completely captivated Cersei. We continued on, all the way back to the deer shooting field off the back corner of the property, and it looked otherworldly. Champ grazed happily on the green grass while I took some pictures.

The big cottonwoods by the creek are covered in kudzu vines, like shackled giants.
Kudzu Cottonwoods

Fuzzy horizon.
Foggy field

Cersei snurfled around the kudzu at the edge of the creek. A minute after I took this, she turned up an armadillo. My very first live armadillo! It was completely unfazed by her - it took two steps and tumbled down the edge of the creek. She growled at it and sniffed where it had been and stared over the edge for a while, then we moved on.

We grazed our way to the end of the green grass, then I thought I'd canter Champ back to the tree line. As always, he had other ideas, and when I asked him to speed up he gaited back toward home. He lives to do the opposite of what I ask, sigh!

Back at the skeet shooting lake, Cersei started not one but TWO deer. I swear, I think deer know exactly how long hunting season is. Before the season, I'd see 2-3 a week, but during hunting season I was lucky to hear a deer a week. Now, two days after the season closed, I saw two big deer from 50 feet away!

By the time we got back, I felt a lot better. Accept the things I cannot change, most people never manage to move anywhere even when they want to, it'll be an adventure, etc. I still get a little overwhelmed thinking about the logistics of a possible move, but if it happens, I'll deal.

Yesterday was the big Ice Storm. Well, it, uh, didn't. I mean there was a little snow on the ground, so the schools were closed, but no real ice. Graham's car had a 4" icicle hanging off the bumper, but that was the biggest piece of ice I saw. It never got cold enough for the ground to freeze. The cats were furious about the snow - they spent all morning in the windows, glaring outside and twitching their tails. They'd look over at us occasionally, but I'm not sure if they wanted us to let them out to investigate or somehow magically make the snow disappear. We did neither.

I got a book from the library that's waaaay beyond my abilities, but I'm enjoying it anyway. Advanced Dressage, by Anthony Crossley. The review of the fundamentals (legs, seat, hands, etc) was helpful for me, and at least I'll know what yall are talking about when you discuss the fine differences between shoulders-in and leg yielding. I'm thinking about buying the previous book, Training the Young Horse.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A study in contrasts

Today was Dixie Dressage #2 and Poppy Solo Trail #1. I want to get these rides written down then I swear I'm gonna go catch up on yall's blogs and my comments!

I trailered her over to the main barn and rode for about an hour in the covered arena. The first part of the ride went quite well - she relaxed into it and worked well for me, mostly at a walk working on bending. About every ten minutes I'd squeeze with both legs and kiss for a rack and we'd do a lap or two around the arena, just so I could work on staying loose and keeping her attention on me. She'd always break up into a couple of strides of odd canter around the turns, but she also came back to me and settled back into a rack very quickly.

Then a Horse Eating Lion (or possibly a chipmunk) rustled in the woods on the north side. We were just walking very calmly along, in a gentle bend, with me thinking about giving the right kind of leg pressure and keeping light contact and feeling her bend when KABLAM the leaves rustled and Dixie exploded into a full spook. Jumped straight up, came back down with her legs splayed, spun 90 degrees and bolted three or four steps away. I stayed completely centered in the saddle, which was kinda cool, and she stopped on her own, which was very cool! Somehow I completely lost the reins on the left side, but I had the other set still held perfectly still. Yay us.

After that I decided to see if I could get her attention back on working with me. She was, I think, a lot more distracted. I'm not positive because I did not look at her ears once. How am I supposed to know what she's thinking if I can't focus on her ears? Yes, I could see them in my peripheral vision, but it's harder for me to tell!

Anyway, she was distracted but she still tried hard for me. She was pretty spooky about that corner of the arena, so I worked on driving her into that corner with more leg and really directing her turns out of it. Her new boyfriend came up to the other corner of the arena, and I worked on keeping her moving at the same pace past him every time.

Her new boyfriend is (IIRC?) a spotted ASB named Perry Como. He fell in love with her the first day I brought her out to the place and he's made googly eyes at her from over the fence every time since. It's kinda cute :3

Anyway, it was a good ride. I finished out with a few minutes of loose rein walk with just the snaffle rein, then fed her a couple scoops of grain, then managed to get her loaded and take her home. She's loaded like a dream every time til the last time, when she decided she'd rather stay and live with Perry than get on the damn trailer and go back to her field. Of course I completely blanked out on any horse loading theories, so I thought about it for a minute and decided to make the right thing waaay easier than the wrong thing. I'd walk her up to the trailer (me standing to one side inside) and she'd balk. I'd back her up for about 20 feet, praise, and walk her back to the trailer. If she balked again, we'd back some more. Took about 4 tries before she decided she'd rather make that big step up into the trailer than back up again.

I am so wordy.

So I got Dixie back home and decided that Poppy was ready to go trail riding solo and I should put up or shut up. I tacked him up with his bridle, my saddle, and a dinky little whip, dragged a broken chair out past the gate, and we were off! My dressage whip, which actually reaches his butt easier, doesn't have a handle so I have to hold it at all times. The dinky little whip has a wrist loop, so I clipped it to the front D rings on my saddle to have it handy.

We immediately had a disagreement about whether he was out there to eat grass or listen to me. This annoyed him. Then we disagreed about whether he could take the first turn to head back home, and he got more annoyed. We went through a gate, down a narrow bit of trail, up a hill, and he decided he was going to trot. I said fine, trot then, and he trotted a bit then stopped and did something odd. At first I couldn't figure out what he was doing - it felt a little like a canter. But we weren't actually moving and his head was down and OH HELL HE'S BUCKING! I was completely shocked and amused that he was bucking, so it took me another buck or two to figure out what to do. In an attempt to do something I growled "Knock that off!" and booted him in the ribs and he headed out again in a Real Big Working Draft Trot.

Wow. I was seriously impressed. I've seen him do the Big Trot from the ground, of course, but I've never ridden it. I loved it! It was awesome!

I am also very very annoyed with myself and with Poppy. He might not be ripped like Brego or Klein, but he's got plenty of muscle under that fluff. How could I have been fooled by his stumbling WP jog-trots previously? He has outsmarted himself and raised the bar for future work.

We trotted a little further on, past the Skeet Lake, and I came to my senses. He might in fact run us into a tree or off a cliff just to prove that he doesn't have to listen. I decided I could pick my battles and we headed for home - with a twist.

We'd walk, CALMLY YOU BASTARD!, towards home. Then we'd turn and I'd have him trot away again. Then we'd walk, turn, repeat. It was pretty nerve-racking. Apparently I'm not over my irrational fear of Poppy. I have to respond to the very early stages of his unwanted behavior as quickly as possible or he just goes ahead and does what he wants.

We had one more big blow up in the paddock nearest his field. I asked for a nice trot away from the gate, and he trotted then wanted to veer left onto a different trail pointing back to the gate. I pulled his head back around right, booted him in the right places, and he wrenched his head left, did a promising cowhorse spin, and cantered for home. I got really fucking pissed and wrapped the reins around my hands - TWICE, I was not going to lose him if I fell off - and did a YANK-release til he slowed down again. Not pretty. As soon as I got him back to a walk, I spun him around and asked for a trot away from home again and pretended like nothing had happened. We walked one more lap of the paddock, with exceptionally nice behavior, and we were done!

Quite a day. I'm glad I worked both of them today; tomorrow it's going to rain all day and we might have an ICE STORM tomorrow night and we could all die.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lesson one on Dixie!

Trailered Dixie to the main barn for a lesson on her today! It sleeted on me for a while and I felt particularly hardcore. (Stop laughing, yall, canceling my lesson would've been a perfectly normal response.) Hardy is German so of course he can't understand why we shiver and whine like we do.

Anyway. He just watched us work together for most of the time, which seemed like the perfectly correct thing to do. He did pinpoint a few things for me to work on right away.

First, he had me move my double reins to different fingers - I swear, I've read or heard every possible way to hold four reins in two hands! I'd been holding the snaffle rein the normal way, with the curb rein coming from below my little finger up through my hand on top of the snaffle. I was also riding with the curb fairly loose and floppy, which made sense to me (I want her to get used to responding to the snaffle action) but was actually counterproductive. Hardy pointed out that with the curb reins so loose, I had to fumble around and tighten them in order to activate them if I needed to. So he had me hold the reins with snaffle between my middle and ring fingers and curb between my ring and pinkie fingers - same as I was doing before, just moved up one finger. And I tightened up the curb rein a bit, til I had light contact on the snaffle and very light contact on the curb. That way when I needed the curb action I could just rotate my thumbs forward toward Dixie's head.

Next, he said I was tensing up whenever she sped up. It's sadly true. I've been working on not leaning forward and becoming a little monkey clinging to her back, but I'm still not truly relaxed at a rack. There's a little fear there, but not much. Mainly it's kind of HARD to truly sit a rack relaxed. It's completely different from sitting the trot, but it's hard in the same way - fast and jouncy is just hard to follow with your seat.

He also pointed out that I was staring at her ears. In my defense, they're gorgeous ears, but that's a big "duh."

She was amazingly well behaved yet again. We got one truly lovely circle - a whole circle, nicely bent! A couple of times she relaxed and stretched down into the bit contact, which was really exciting. And I got a couple strides of RW out of her, when she was racking and I managed to relax into the motion. Yay.

Things I want to work on:

How should I warm her up? She's not really stiff when I get on her, not like a horse that's been stalled overnight, but I'm not sure if I should let her walk around on a loose rein for a couple minutes or start right into asking for some contact and some bending.

Eek, I need to put some "speed up" leg cues on her. She only goes faster for a kiss or a cluck or a thump in the ribs (intentional or accidental!) She does bend correctly to leg aids while turning, which is a vast improvement - when I first got her, any leg at all meant "GO FASTER OR DIE" so I did a lot of desensitizing.

Once I get a clear leg cue for "gait fast please" I can teach a different clear leg cue for "canter please." I think she'll be ready to learn to canter under saddle pretty soon, but I need clear cues.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I realize I've been remiss in bugging yall for pictures of your horses' feet while not putting up any of my own in months. Well, here's Part One - Champ.

Short back story: Champ was (I think) 12 when I bought him. He'd had basically one owner before me, a sweet old man who took what he thought was the best possible care of Champ by keeping him shod year round on all four feet with keg shoes. I personally think the best possible care is barefoot, so I screwed up my nerve and had his shoes pulled a couple months after I got him. He's been barefoot for two years now, and his feet are... pretty good. They don't look great and I don't think they ever will, but he's sound over everything except pointy gravel and there's not much of that around here. For the first couple months I had him, he stumbled and slipped over everything, but barefoot, he's as surefooted as a mountain goat. Here we go!

Front feet, side shot. Almost no flaring, which is nice. Looks to me like the left is a little longer and the right is a little underrun?
Champ front feet

Front left. Heels definitely look a bit long to me. After I took these pictures, I trimmed about 1/16th off the heels of both his fronts. I'll look at them again in a day or two and see if some of the powdery sole has come out and I might take more off. His frogs look puny, but they have always been puny. These look better than in the past, at least the central sulcus has opened up. And his heels look level.
Champ front left

Slightly different view of front left, I can see the heel height a bit better here.
Champ front left

Front right. This side definitely looks a bit more underrun to me. I think that means I should work his right toe back a bit. I know some people don't like seeing chips missing out of the sole walls, but it doesn't really bother me. It'll grow back, and it obviously doesn't bother him. I thought these heels were long too so I trimmed the same 1/16" from them.
Champ front right

Champ front right

Here's his rear feet. Rear feet almost always look better than front feet, and his are pretty symmetrical so I only took shots of the left rear. (I was getting the flashing low battery warning on the camera, even though I'd just put batteries in it, and I didn't want it to die.) His rears have better concavity, but the same puny frogs. I like this first picture because it has bonus Cersei action.

Champ rear feet

See? Better frog, but not what I'd like to see on his rear feet. And they're slightly asymmetrical - larger toward the inside. I suspect this is connected with his conformation and way of going, and I've been leery of making drastic changes and possibly stressing his joints. I dunno. This is the kind of thing where I wish I had a really good barefoot trimmer to consult with.
Champ rear left

Ok, this is weird but common, from what I've read. This picture shows me holding his gaskin, letting his leg dangle from the hock down. See how the inside is way higher than the outside? The left leg is the same in reverse - his rear inner heels are higher than his outer heels. For the first year, I left it alone. For a couple months last year, I viciously attacked those high inner heels and kept them trimmed so that his hoof was balanced. I never noticed any difference in soundness or temperament, so I went back to leaving them alone. But looking at that picture just bugs me! Should I trim those high inner heels or leave them alone? Rrrrgh.
Champ rear left

Please feel free to comment. I'm not an expert by any means. I'm not going to trim frogs or trim live sole, but I'll consider anything else yall have to say!

Oh, hell - last post was my 200th post. Oh well. Around here all anniversaries go unremarked; artificial celebrations are stupid. Here's to another 200 ramblings!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hatchet (wo)man

I got a hatchet today! I took my most faithful steed (Champ) out into the woods and chopped down some trees. All that trail clearing yesterday really inspired me to fix a few more problems. I took out a couple of elm saplings that were almost in the way of our trails. Chopping down elms doesn't bother me one bit because they're just going to die of the Dutch Elm Disease anyway. I trimmed a few limbs off of some oak trees - I'm much kinder to oaks because they'll hopefully outlive me! And I bushwhacked a bit and made a new steep trail up a hill - the old steep trail is slowly eroding away and it gives T the heebie jeebies. I don't think she'll like the new trail much better but c'est la vie!

I rode Champ in a halter again. When did I become the person who just goes hacking out in a halter? It's not even a rope halter; it's a nice padded nylon halter. No control whatsoever. I think I just finally realized that my battles - wait, no, they're not even that eventful - my skirmishes with Champ are mental, not physical. And the halter sure is easier to do trail maintenance with. Unclip the rein, tie him to a tree, chop down a different tree.

Spring is here, by the way. I trimmed hooves when I got back from killing trees. Silky's feet were fairly long - maybe 1/4" all around - so she got nippered back. She was pretty good, considering how creaky and skittish she is. One of her frogs, the RF, is all tattered and gunky looking, but she was not going to let me pick it out and look at it. After she snatched her hoof away twice, I promised to leave the frog alone if she'd let me trim the walls. I'll keep an eye on that foot.

Dixie came up to beg for more grain while I was trimming Silky, so she was my second victim. Her feet are still a little odd, but not nearly as bad as they were when I got her. Dixie was Not Keen on letting me mess with her feet, but she acted way better than in the past. A little flare on the outsides of her fronts, and a little too much toe, but overall very nice. I think I'll take some pictures tomorrow to compare with a year ago - she's come a long way. Horses are amazingly resilient creatures.

Oh, and a Cersei update! Cersei doesn't actually have toenails, she has ROCKS growing out of her pads. I keep dulling my cheap nail trimmers on them, so I invested in (warning: annoying link!) a as-seen-on-tv PetiPaws for her. It's a low-speed battery powered dremel with a guard. It makes a quite moderate buzzing sound. She thinks it's the Chainsaw of Death coming to chop off her feet. Sigh.

This seemed like a good opportunity to do something useful (as opposed to just FUN) with clicker training. I use high quality kibble for her standard treat, and I've got some rendered duck skin bits for the jackpot treats. She'll target the Deadly Toe Devourer for just kibble while it's off, but it takes duck skin for her to touch it while it's on. I worked with her for about 30 minutes and got her to let me touch her feet with the Buzzing Swarm of Bees, as well as let me hold her paw in my hand. It was good progress and I think she'll come around.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Back to the horses

I've got some catching up to do!

Sunday I rode Valentine, and stayed all zen, and got her to trot. It was pretty cool!

Then, back to the field, where I rode Poppy. He did amazingly well! We just rode around the two open paddocks, working on listening to me. Mainly walk, a little whoa, and a few strides of trot. When I got done, I unsaddled him and he wandered about 10 yards away and laid down and took a nap. Poor guy, he's so out of shape and paying attention is such hard work.

Then I loaded Dixie and took her to the main barn and rode her in the covered arena. She was perfect. I mean, absolutely perfect. She was absolutely alert, cause she was in a strange new-ish place, but she was listening to me and perfectly responsive. We rode around for about 30 minutes, working on bending and stopping with just the snaffle rein. Then I walked her back to the truck, untacked her, and led her all around the property hand-grazing the patches of green grass. I was on Cloud 9!

Yesterday I rode Poppy again. T took Goblin and I took Poppy and we went on a super short trail ride. Down the two biggest trails, to both sides of the Skeet Shooting Lake, then back. He remained a very good very calm fellow. All the spooky things he saw - a big tractor tire, a dead washing machine - he'd pop his head up, snort, and want to go sniff them. He's going to be a great trail horse for K :)

I'm really pleasantly surprised at how he's emotionally matured over the years. He was what, a 3 year old when I got him? Very much a big spooky baby with no attention span. That's how he got labeled in my head, and I've just started to notice how he's steadied down, filled out, just matured mentally and physically.

Anyway, after I'd tuckered Poppy out again (he fell asleep sunbathing right in front of me while I talked to B), I snagged Champ and cruelly forced him to carry me to my parents' house. Champ made his displeasure completely known and tried to halfheartedly spook at everything. I insisted we soldier on, at a trot most of the way. I let him graze in my dad's garden, talked with my parents for a bit, then allowed him to carry me home at a brisk trot. One or two more visits and he'll stop thinking there's wolves in their backyard ;)

Today, of course, it SNOWED. It stopped snowing about noon, and it never really got cold, so almost all of the snow had melted by the time I got out to the horses.

I took Dixie on a fairly short trail ride. I got on and she was off like a rocket, and I reminded myself to not lean forward, not lean back, not yank on her mouth, and not try to rate her speed at all. She slowed down after a couple hundred yards and started listening again. Yay! I've noticed that if I try to make her do what I want when I first get on, she gets scared and kind of shuts down mentally for the rest of the ride. But if I let her have that little bit of total freedom at the very beginning, she'll listen and work with me for the rest of the ride. Silly mares! We rode down by the big fishing lake, where two Terror Birds (a pair of mallards) made her spook hard and half spin, but she came right back to me mentally and didn't actually run. We rode for another couple of miles in the woods, then headed for home. She wanted to bolt for home, but I asked her to slow back down and she did. I was really impressed with her again!

I finished up with a trail-trimming ride on Champ. I took a pair of trimming shears, which worked ok on the small branches, but I need to go back with a hatchet or a hacksaw and take out a few little trees. Did a lot from the saddle, but when we got in the really overgrown trails in the woods I got off and led him along, trimming as I went. I got most of the way through our normal woods trail, then veered off onto an old overgrown trail, then hiked down an honest-to-god deer trail, then ended up behind the dam of the Skeet Lake.

This is not good!
The dam's in bad shape!

The lakes back there are all manmade, and pretty old. Big trees have grown up on the dams, and some time not too long ago one of those big trees fell and took out a chunk of the dam. I think that lake is not long for this world!

Anyway, if you look closely at that picture, you can see the remains of THE SNOW. Perhaps the world won't end tonight. We've got another 6 weeks of the threat of WHITE DEATH hanging over our heads, though.

Oh my god, we're gonna die

I just woke up and there's a ton of huge fat snowflakes pouring down from the sky. This is not our usual piddly "little balls of white styrofoam" this is real snow. They didn't forecast snow, and we're down to our last half-gallon of precious organic milk, and we're gonna dieeeeeeeee

Horse stuff later. I have to stare at this odd event.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gun maintenance

Yall made some cool comments on the last post. Andrea, the entire reason I got a gun was because I go riding all alone so far away from civilization. Dear god, I hope I never have to shoot my horse.. but I can't think of anything more horrible than waiting hours for a vet to four-wheeler out to me to put down a horse with a shattered leg. That's how I picked my caliber, too - I asked around, and gun experts agreed that a 9 mil would probably kill a horse but a .40 definitely would.

Ugh. I don't even like thinking about that.

Anyway, I've never shot a long gun but I've heard enough horror stories from women who got knocked down that I'm gonna be careful when I learn. Don't be scared to shoot a pistol, they don't have much recoil at all! Yesterday I let S shoot my gun, and she's maybe 100 lbs - tiny little teenager - and she had no problem with it. All of yall have been jerked harder by a horse on a lead rope than a pistol will kick.

So. I have a Smith & Wesson M&P .40. I wanted a .40, and I wanted something lefty-friendly, and that pistol fit my requirements at the gun store I went to. It's got a switch inside it somewhere to swap which side you eject the magazine from. It's a pretty good gun - it's full size, which should make it marginally more accurate and definitely makes it easier to hold with gloves on. It's a bit persnickety; when it's dirty it tends to misfire. This is really annoying but makes me keep it clean! Here's how I clean it.

Make sure it's empty and assemble your stuff. Here's my gun (unloaded), some vile-smelling gun solvent, gun oil, and a screwdriver. Not shown are nitrile gloves and a chunk of an old flannel pillowcase.

WAIT! Stop what you're doing and go open the door. Or do it outside. I'm not kidding about how horrible the solvent smells.

Rack the slide back and pull the Pointy Thing out of the grip.

Look down the top of the gun. See the yellowish thing?

Use the Pointy Thing to flip that down/forward. Also my hands are pretty dry.

Look on the left side of the gun. See the little thing above the trigger that looks like a wing?

Flip it down toward the trigger, and you can move the slide completely forward off of the gun.

This is the underside of the slide. The spring is sitting on top of the actual barrel. To the right of the spring you'll see some golden colored metal - that needs to be cleaned.

Here's the body of the gun after you take the slide off. All the flat surfaces on top of the gun need to be cleaned and lightly oiled.

So, when you buy your gun you're going to buy a cleaning kit with it. Unlike me, you won't immediately lose the cleaning kit. You'll have plastic rods and brushes and pretty white cotton swabs. I, however, can't find half the rods or any of the white cotton swabs. Therefore I am using a screwdriver and part of a flannel blanket. Put your nitrile gloves on. They tell me that gun solvent will eat latex or vinyl gloves. Dip the swab in the (horribly nasty smelling) solvent, so the swab's completely saturated.

Use your cleaning rod to shove the swab completely through the barrel. It'll come out dirty. Repeat, with clean solvent swabs, until it's not dirty anymore (took me three passes).

Take a look down the barrel. It should be pretty clean. The swirls are rifling; they make the bullet spin as it comes out of the barrel and greatly increases accuracy.

Get another swab with some solvent on it and scrub off all the parts that look like they slide together. With some good light you'll see black crud in various spots, just scrub it off with light pressure. Wipe all the bits of dirt off your poor gun, too, you silly redneck.

Now that it's dry, you want to oil it. Less oil is waaaay better than too much oil! The oil lubricates the moving parts a tiny bit, and it keeps the shiny metal from rusting, but it also attracts black crud (GSR) and makes your !$#@$ gun jam.

You can click on this picture and go to "all sizes" on the flickr page - this is oiled enough. I put a drop of oil on either side of the slide, then smear it out with another (clean) swab.

Now look down the handle, where the magazine locks in. Pull the trigger and note where the trigger gears move. Put one drop of oil on the trigger gears and pull it a few more times to distribute the oil. Oil the flat metal pieces on top of the back of the gun while you're there.

Put two drops of oil on the barrel and smear them all around with a swab. It won't look like much, but it's enough. This is half-oiled. The inside of the barrel doesn't need oil.

Here's everybody's favorite car repair manual phrase: "Reassembly is reverse of disassembly." You'll probably want to check the manual! Drop the barrel in the slide, put the spring in (it only goes in correctly one way), get the slide back on the gun locked back, find the Pointy Thing and put the green lever back where it was, and you should be able to rack the slide and NOT have the slide fall off. Put the Pointy Thing back in the grip. Dry fire it (pull the trigger) just to make sure, then you're ready to reload and store it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Icecapades and dead beer cans

Stacey wanted pictures of our ICE so I brought the goods.

First, look at my horse! Even subtracting the fluffy winter hair, this is the best his topline has ever looked. Riding better really is helping him! That goofy bald area on his mane is just never going to grow back in, either. He is lucky I love him, big ugly mug.


Here is K yelling at me about how MY HORSE (Champ) suckered her into breaking ice all week for him. I told her that he knows perfectly well how to break ice, but she said he came up and made a pitiful face and sniffed the ice and made her break it.
Lucky, Cersei, K

Here's Stacey's pic! I tossed a stick about 3 feet out for Cersei to fetch. You can tell she was trippin' out about the water-that-she-could-walk-on.
Cersei on ice!

Afterwards, we walked back to the big lake and went shooting. I brought my .40 semi-auto and a box of ammo, which went away very fast, and K brought her antique .22 revolver and a box of ammo, which went very slowly. There's a lot of teeny tiny little bullets in a box of .22!

Here's our target: a beer can, on a dirt backstop, with a line of hills behind.


But not just any beer. It was a Bud Light can, and all Bud Light deserves to die. The big holes are from my .40, and the teenincy little holes are from the .22.
Yep, that's one dead beer can there

(No, we weren't drinking and shooting. Found the beer can out there, left over from drinking and fishing this summer.)

I was really pleased with my shooting. I blew a lot of holes in the can with my last round with my gun. Tried kneeling and laying down with the .22, and that was kinda cool. A lot more accurate. Now I just need to find my cleaning kit, ugh!

Cersei, who is terrified of fireworks, wasn't fazed at all by shooting. One of us always had her by the collar when the range was live, because she desperately wanted to go grab that beer can whenever it jumped. I do wish I had a duck-hunting mentor, or that it didn't seem so daunting to teach myself. She really would be a hell of a duck dog. :)

Friday, January 16, 2009

I told yall I was hardcore

It was all of 18 degrees out when I ventured out to ride. Yep, I rode. I decided it was entirely too cold for a bit, and too cold for a possibly sweaty horse, so I rode Champ in a halter. We just went on a very leisurely walk through the woods. Cersei was entranced by the ice in the trail puddles and kept walking around on them. (ICE THAT HOLDS UP A 65 LB DOG AAAA) I was more entranced by the thin but solid sheets of ice on all the lakes. (ICE ON THE LAKES AAAAAAAA) I got really cold at one point, so I posted the walk for a while and two-pointed for a bit. Then we stopped by one of the big back lakes for Champ to graze, so I kicked out of the stirrups and waggled my feet around til they came back to life. Yeah, we still have green (albeit frozen) grass in a couple places.

I got back to the truck and discovered that one of the horses had kicked out one of my taillights. Sigh. I suspect the expensive spotted one did it. :( In retribution I put her in crossties and rasped a tiny bit of her inside front feet where I think they're too long. She stood really nicely, which is unusual for her, so I kept it really short.

Danger, Will Robinson

Yall northerners will get a kick out of this.

It's dangerously brutally cold here today. So cold, in fact, that local public and private schools are cancelled. The news ran helpful tips on how to stay alive should your car break down. I'm sure the grocery stores were packed last night with people desperately stocking up on milk and bread in case they couldn't leave the house today.

Currently, it's 12 and sunny. That's positive 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Twelve is SO COLD we can't send our kids to school. The high is going to be 27. Though I may lose a hand to frostbite, I am going to brave the cold to visit my horses. I'm so hardcore!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Two things!

Today I accomplished two things with the horses. I trailered Dixie over to the barn and let her get used to the place, and I did two miles trotting on Champ, posting with and without stirrups. My poor legs HURT!

The trailer is pretty nimble. I do actually know how to drive - and back - a trailer! I used to buy my hay as round rolls and pick up 1-3 at a time. One 4x5 round roll will fit in the bed of my truck, but if I was getting more than one I had to borrow a 16' flatbed utility trailer. I got really good at hooking that thing up by myself, driving it down narrow roads, and backing it into and out of weird spots. The wee little pink trailer? It's a breeze comparatively!

Mainly I hung out with K and watched the farrier trim everybody else's horses. I don't know enough about trimming to really criticize him, but I didn't like the way he carved out everybody's soles. Fake concavity is worse than no concavity!

FHOTD really annoyed me today. Yes, there are some horrible owner-trimmers out there. Yes, Strasser people give all barefoot people a really bad name. But trimming isn't rocket science, and I remain completely convinced that I'm as qualified to trim my horses as any farrier I've met down here.

But whatever. It's like feeding my dog raw food - I don't keep it a secret, but I don't tell everybody how I do it and it's the best way to do it and everybody else should too. I went to a lot of trouble to learn (and keep learning!) about canine nutrition and equine physiology, and I think I'm doing what's right for my animals. It's a lot of work and a lot of responsibility, and I don't think it's right wrangle anybody else into doing stuff my way.

And speaking of dogs - ffffffffff while I was hanging out with K, Cersei was eating all the hoof trimmings she could find. Apparently that was a vast number. And apparently she ate a lot of dirt too. She's been puking up really vile smelling dirtpuke all evening. The little mini steam cleaner has seen a lot of action tonight. Sigh. Of course if she's not better tomorrow, I'll take her to the vet, but I think she'll be fine in the morning.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I have a plan!

I've been plotting this out for a week, and it's been approved by all parties and set into motion. See, K just got a 2 horse bumper pull which she's leaving at the field, and she said I am welcome to use it... so I'm going to start hauling Dixie over to the main barn for my lessons. I think we're at a point where the two of us could really benefit from instruction. She's steadying down a bit and actually listening to my aids and responding to them, instead of fighting or bolting. And I keep noticing things I'm doing wrong, but I know I don't notice them as quickly as I should.

K said I can just use the trailer, but I insisted on bargaining for it with her - I'm going to ride one of her horses (Promise or Poppy) once a week in exchange for hauling once a week. I keep meaning to ride them, but never actually getting around to it. If I feel obligated, I'll actually do it. And Hardy is excited too, and the barn owner's happy, so yay :)

Catchup - Sunday's lesson on Val went better. I get so frustrated with her and instead of calmly giving an aid I tense up all over, which makes Val completely ignore me. I'd been thinking about that last week, so Sunday I tried to ride in a zen-like state of calm, and it worked pretty well. After the lesson was over, when I was cooling her down, I flopped the stirrups over the pommel and dropped the reins and steered her around with just legs and seat. Hopefully I can hang onto that calmness in the future!

Sunday afternoon I rode Promise again. She still weirds me out, with the lop ears, and I don't feel like I know what she's thinking, but we're getting there. Apparently she is mainly thinking "Oh boy oh boy can we run yet?" We walked in a few prancy circles, then I asked for a trot and got a canter, and then I made the classic beginner error of clamping my legs down in surprise, so we galloped away. It only took a couple seconds for me to realize what I was doing, sit back and relax my legs, and coax her back down to a trot. I'm getting better! She's really not in shape to gallop me around, although she is filling out nicely. I'll keep working with her, and her human is doing some lounge line work with her daily.

Yesterday I rode Dixie on the trails and she did quite well. She listened almost all the time! Then I trimmed Champ and made him exercise me on the dead-end part of the street. We walked a lap, to get us warmed up, then we trotted two or three laps. Part of the time I worked on posting correctly with stirrups, and part of the time I posted without stirrups. I know that I need to work those core muscles to build them up, but at the same time I don't want to flop painfully on my poor horse's back. Google Earth says a lap is a half-mile, so we did about a mile or a mile and a half.

I was planning on riding Poppy today, but I actually got to go to work instead. Yay money! I won't have to work tomorrow until late morning or early afternoon, so I'm going to get up early, ride Poppy, and haul Dixie out to the main barn. She needs to visit a few times before I try to actually have a productive lesson on her.

Anyway, I'm never going to be as disciplined as Andrea, but I actually have a plan. Wooo!

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Gave everybody ivermectin, much to their dismay. Nobody's ill-mannered, mind you, but they obviously hate it. I call them up to the truck and halter whoever comes up first, then deworm my victim, give my victim a treat for being good, and repeat. The first horse is always surprised and dismayed, and the other two become very wary. But greed always wins in the end.

It turned off chilly overnight, and it's cloudy and damp. I tried to get excited about riding Poppy or Promise, but I just wasn't feeling it. K agreed that it's a gross day, so we just stood around and talked for an hour then headed home.

Now I'm going to watch football and drink beer and cook something tasty. It's a perfect day for that at least!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Oh, and my truck's unstuck!

(I'm not entirely sure why I document every single ride on this blog, but I do. I guess I can look back and do some statistics and say "On average I ride 20 days a month" or something!)

Yesterday my truck was freed from the perilous mud yet again. Hopefully I will have learned something and I won't drive in the damn field in the damn rain anymore. Sigh. Anyway, K had the day off so she towed me out.

Afterward, we did a bit of road riding. The ground was still a little squishy so K wanted to go on the road, which sounded fine to me. We took Champ and Goblin, the two most levelheaded of our horses. It was more of a lesson for K than a workout for the boys, but we all had fun.

First, I helped K learn how to stop Goblin, before we even left the driveway. He was doing that thing where the horse just wants to walk slowly but doesn't want to stop, which is unnerving to a green rider. I talked her through a couple of pull-releases, then had her turn Goblin in a circle til he got bored and stopped. We repeated that several times, til she felt confident enough to head down the dead end street. I'm not sure what she wasn't doing correctly for Goblin to woah when she pulled gently on the reins (maybe nothing, he's an opinionated but kind gelding), but once she had the basic one-rein stop down she was ready to go.

We moseyed very slowly down to the end of the street, then turned and went back past the field and off into the neighborhood. We talked a lot about riding, and how you're invincible as a kid but horses are kinda scary as a grownup, and basic pressure-release stuff. She really wants to be riding Poppy by the end of the year, but she knows she needs to get her confidence up and get her timing and reflexes better. I'm gonna do my part to help by putting more miles on Poppy - I think tomorrow I'll deworm my bunch and ride Poppy and/or Promise.

I'm not a trainer, but I'm glad to be somewhat helpful. When I first got Champ and Silky, I don't think I got anything remotely as useful as a one-rein stop from the people at my barn! "Keep your heels down so you don't get dragged" and "lean forward uphill, backward downhill" was the sum total of the useful advice I got. Horse won't woah? Uhhh it'll get tired eventually, or you can saw on its mouth, or if all else fails point it at the side of a barn, it'll stop before it crashes! I really think the key to training is the release, and I'm trying to emphasize that to K. The horse thinks whatever it did the second before you released was the correct thing. Period. That's the big fundamental secret to training.

Anyway, both horses were cool as cucumbers and K had a good confidence-building ride!

Moonlight ride

My husband and I both looked like shaggy unkempt ruffians, so we headed out to get our hair cut this afternoon. Well - his was longer, so we made an appointment at a new salon for him. Then I liked what the owner/stylist did with his hair, and she had time for me, so I got mine cut too. We look stellar, yall. The new stylist is completely off her rocker insane, but she's really funny and great with hair, so we'll be going back.

When we got out of there, it was about a quarter til five. I looked at the setting sun and the rising full moon and decided I had to ride. I dropped him off, picked up the dog, and raced out to the horses by 5:15. I tacked up Dixie with the double reins and we headed off to do a little schooling.

It was pretty successful, I think! I've yanked the stirrups as far back as they'll go on the tree, so I can keep heels under hips if I sit slightly forward in the saddle. Now that I'm not fighting the stirrups, I can think about the upper half of my body. I have a tendency to lean forward when Dixie speeds up, so I concentrated on keeping my torso straight. Following her head with my hands is getting easier, too.

Dixie behaved much better today than she had on Wednesday. She stayed at a slow walk or a flatwalk pretty much the whole ride, and she wasn't trying to evade the bit. She did want to rush home through the last paddock - completely ignored my half halts - so I let her rack right on up to the gate. Then we turned around and walked halfway back through the paddock, turned again (slowly, but not particularly gracefully), and flatwalked back to the gate. She listened to my "slow down please" cues much better! I figured that was a good enough note to end the ride on.

We didn't ride very far or very long. The trees and lakes are gorgeous in the moonlight! Very otherworldly. It wouldn't surprise me at all to stumble upon elves in the silver light. I wish I had a tripod to take full moon pictures for yall :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


So we all know that to move a horse away from you, you need to "increase your energy" or "make yourself bigger" or "fluff your chi" or whatever phrase your favorite trainer uses. And we all know this concept works, right? Whatever you think of barbaric traditional methods or snake oil natural horsemanship, all the effective trainers are doing something that a horse understands to mean "get out of my space" or "you may come to me."

I try hard not to anthropomorphize my animals, and I don't believe they are psychic. I have a lot of trouble "making myself bigger," so I've been thinking and watching and reading to try to figure out exactly what the effective trainers are doing with their bodies to get the "get out of my space" result. I've completely nailed the "you may come in"/"no need to run from me" body language, perhaps because it's more explicitly laid out in most literature.

Feminist rant on the side: I have anecdotally noticed that men are able to do the "big scary" body language easier and women are able to do the "I'm harmless" language easier. This is really annoying for lots of reasons having to do with the semi-invisible oppressive patriarchy and lifelong gender conditioning which I won't go in to, because all seven of my readers will get bored and leave and because I'm really not that rabid of a feminist.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I haven't yet come across a practical detailed description of how to make one's aura bigger to move a horse. I have coped so far by waving my arms, cursing, stomping my feet, and generally pretending that I'm a drunk 20 year old man trying to get in a bar fight.* But I'm always looking for a better way.

*OK, I rarely have to do all of those things at once. I can usually get away with just standing up big and straight and raising my arms somewhat. If that doesn't work I will not hesitate to stomp my feet and cuss though.

I finally found something really interesting. It's from a dog training blog; I can't remember which of yall linked me to it but I suspect it was DP. Power in Herding Dogs talks about some of the key elements, one of which is which way the aggressive animal is leaning. If a herding dog is usually leaning toward a sheep (even to a small degree), the sheep will have a larger flight zone and be much warier. If the dog is making the right moves, but leaning and/or looking away from the sheep, the sheep won't move as fast or as far for the dog. I'm going to google around a bit, and I'm going to pay more attention to the way I lean and the reaction I get from my horses.

Stuck in the mud, head in the clouds

Yeah, truck's still stuck. It quit raining today, though, and I managed to "rock" it out of the deep slew it was in. Now it's just sitting at the bottom of a small hill which is still too slick to drive up. Either I'll get out on my own tomorrow, or K can come tow me out after she gets off work.

I was in a pretty glum mood after I got halfway unstuck, but I knew a ride would make me feel better. I actually got Champ completely saddled up. Then Dixie walked up and I thought about how I shouldn't ride her cause I wasn't 100% on my game, then I thought about how that's the reason she didn't get ridden much last year. And last spring, it wasn't a bad reason; she was pretty untrusting and spooky. But this spring? She's just spooky. Likes me just fine.

So I untacked Champ and held the halter out for Dixie. She stuck her head right in it and I knew I'd made the right decision. I gave her a cup of feed (I've switched to that Purina Ultium) and got her ready to go.

On the trail, she was particularly psycho. Would not listen to me, did nothing but try to evade the bit and rack as fast as possible down the slippery trails and jump anything in her path. I began to think that perhaps I hadn't actually made the right decision, and that we hadn't actually made any progress in the last year. We did about 2 miles in the woods, slipping often enough for me to really worry about hurting her. But dammit, I was not going to let her win this.

I took her out in the soybean field, where it's soggy but at least not slippery, and I let her go. You wanna go fast? Let's go, baby. We did two more miles in the field. I didn't even try to check her gait, just pointed her head away from home and gave her a little leg every time she wanted to slow down.

You know what? She has a really stupendously nice canter. Maybe it's not all that special, for all I know - Champ is actually the only other horse I've cantered on. Champ's canter really slings you back and forth. Maybe he catches a lot of air, or maybe he just stretches out? I don't know. I always end up riding it two-point. But Dixie, wheeee, it's beautiful. A little bit of back and forth and a little bit of up and down. I could sit that all day.

We racked or cantered all the way to one end of the field, then paused for a couple minutes, then went tearing back home. When we got near the end of the field I made her turn and rack out for a hundred yards, then turn and walk to the treeline. I guess she just needed a good run (or maybe she was just tired), because she actually flatwalked the whole rest of the way home for me.

And despite the fact that we "fought" most of the ride, despite the way I felt I haven't done a damn thing with this mare in a year... after I untacked her, she hung around and let me scratch her itchy head. For the don't-touch-me-i-don't-trust-you mare, that's a decent accomplishment.

Cersei, as always, went with us. She is stretched out under my feet snoring. :3

Monday, January 5, 2009

Look, ma, no stirrups!

I was in a horrible cruddy mood today. All day, I watched it pour down rain and get colder and colder. Cersei awoke from her afternoon nap about 4 and wanted to go play, so I grumbled and bundled up and headed out. (Her afternoon nap is distinguished from her morning nap by a pee break sometime between 11 am and 1 pm, in case you were wondering. A tired dog is a happy dog!)

Anyway, so it was 33 degrees and raining, but I rode anyway. It was Champ's day, and I didn't want to do anything except ride around a few minutes til my mood improved. The ground was sodden and it was almost dark, so I went did a few short laps on the dead-end part of Polk Lane. There are only four houses on that street past my barn, so I felt safe enough out there.

We did a couple of laps walking to the end and jogging back, while I thought about how exactly one posts without stirrups and without falling off. Eventually, I just wiggled my toes out of the stirrups and gave it a shot. I didn't fall off! I can see what a great exercise it is for balance and core strength, and I plan to do it again next time I ride Champ.

Then I got my truck stuck in the mud again. Oh well. I didn't even have a meltdown about it; I'd already ridden so I was pretty chill. K tried to tow me out, but she couldn't get much traction so we'll just leave it there til Wednesday.

The unexpected side benefit was getting to take my husband's 325i to the grocery store. Vroom zoom zoom, it's like piloting a small rocket ship around.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oh, pictures!

I stole these from K's facebook. She won't mind.

Here's Promise. Yes, she's still thin, but she's gained a lot of weight and has a much improved (read: bitchier) disposition now! Also her right ear is permanently bent sideways. I don't know the story behind that.

Here's a few of me on Poppy. See the stupid wide muck boots? Also I know I'm leaning forward a bit :( but in my defense the ground slopes and I overcompensate.

Cersei is rather reckless. She knows Poppy will squash her and keeps a sharp eye on him, but she just has to run with us.

Thoughts on Dixie

Had another nice ride on Dixie today.

I've spent the last couple days thinking about a couple recent posts by Dressage in Jeans. She wrote this right before New Years, and I spent a couple days being all boggled that she has my horse. Or perhaps, more precisely, my horse acts like a TB. Almost all young show-bred TWH's act like TBs, actually. They're kinda pyscho, no manners, no brakes, very little steering, start racking off at top speed as soon as you get one foot in a stirrup, etc. Anyway, yesterday she wrote about her work with him and I've been mulling that post over.

I know it sounds weird that I don't know what a TB really acts like, but I don't! They're not remotely common around here. Promise the ancient polo pony is the first and only TB I've seen in the flesh, much less ridden. Anyway, perhaps yall will have a better idea of what a young show ring TWH acts like now!

What she did with Clyde only partially applies to me and Dixie. Neither of us have a fluffy flat arena, so I can really relate to riding in circles in a field. But I don't want to school the canter (not for two or three more years). I can't make Dixie relax; I have to just ride her calmly til she chooses to. And in fact, I don't mind when she flatwalks; the flatwalk is the best way to build up the muscles and cadence for a good running walk.

I'll digress again and talk about gaits for a minute. Dixie has four (or five) gaits under saddle. She'll do a slow walk (also called a dog walk), which is just a bit faster than a "normal horse" walk. Maybe equivalent to a nice extended walk? Her next speed under saddle is a flatwalk, which is still a walk just way faster. A non gaited horse needs to trot slowly to keep up with the flatwalk. The flatwalk is the one where her head is flopping up and down like a bobble head Chihuahua. If she gets panicky, or if I squeeze and kiss, she'll zoom off at a rack or a runningwalk. Both gaits are very fast; a non gaited horse has to canter to keep up. They feel different, they use different body configurations and muscles, and they're both "good." Dixie will fall into and out of a RW while she's racking. The RW is a lot harder for her to do, and it's the gait I am hoping to encourage. Lastly, if she keeps trying to pick up speed while she's racking, the timing gets off and it turns into a canter, which I am discouraging at this time.

So if it's harder for her to RW than to rack, why am I trying to make her do the hard thing? There's three reasons. First, the rack is a ventroflexed (hollow-backed) gait, which isn't great for the horse's health over the long term. Next, I am encouraging the RW because it uses different muscles and I'd like for her to build strength in all her gaits. And finally, the rack isn't as safe, imo, as the walking gaits. A walk (any speed) always has two or three feet on the ground, but a rack (like a canter) has a moment where there's only one hoof on the ground. It just doesn't seem safe to go racking through the mud, or down a field that you're not sure of the ground.

Anyway, Dressage in Jeans spent a lot of time with Clyde working on gait changes, rating his speed, learning to balance at different speeds, etc. The gait changes don't really apply to me. I mean, if I were a great rider I could help Dixie RW instead of rack, but as it is I just try to stay out of her way and encourage her to walk instead of rack. What I really thought was useful was her reminder that hot horses are usually nervous, fearful horses. I need to keep Dixie's mind on me and keep reassuring her that I won't hurt her, and there are no monsters around the corner. At the same time, I have to remind her that I'm the one in charge - she's a fairly pushy mare.

Today we did a nice slow ride in the woods. Yesterday's beautiful tank-top weather has disappeared, and it was drizzly and progressively colder all day. The trails were kinda slippery, and I had T with me on Goblin, so we stayed quite slow. Well, slow for Dixie - her slowest walk is way faster than Goblin wants to mosey along, so T had to trot to catch up every couple of minutes. I kept Dixie at a slow walk or a flatwalk the whole way - I didn't want Goblin cantering or her racking in the mud.

I'm aiming to ride her again Tuesday. If the weather sucks, I guess we'll do another slow trail ride, but if it's through raining I might take her out for some road work / flexing. I decided four reins is just too many for trail riding, so I'm just riding her in a curb on the trails. When I want to concentrate on bending, I whip out the double bridle - and next time I'll get pics for you, DP!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Funder, the polo star

... or something!

So I'd promised K that if she brought Poppy's saddle today, I'd ride him for her. He was a good boy, of course. He tried to slither sideways toward trees a few times, but I stopped him. The earlier you notice he's up to something, the easier it is to dissuade him, but that's true for any horse.

Anyway, I did some very basic work: turn, stop, walk, trot. I got everything I wanted - no major hissyfits, fairly prompt speed changes - and got off. K loves him and takes good care of him... but he's actually getting worked LESS by her than he was by me. I offered to ride him for her when I have time, and I will. I feel kinda bad that he's not working toward any potential.

After I set Poppy free, I got to talking to a friend of mine who was visiting us. A few minutes later, K led Promise up and said "So you gonna ride her?"

I have a problem with ever saying no to anything that's remotely like a challenge. Ride a 23 year old ex polo pony who hasn't had a rider for several years? Well, hell, Poppy didn't kill me so she couldn't possibly!

K got Promise for free a couple months ago. Promise's former owner was behind in board and surrendered her to the barn owner, who gave her to K. (I assume there's a contract involved; I don't know the details.) Anyway, Promise was really thin when K got her, but K has been religiously graining her twice a day and the old mare is coming back really nicely! K and her friend B have been longeing her lightly to help build her muscles back up, and the old bat thinks she's the queen of the field these days.

So Kelly led up a skinny (but fatter!) lop eared old Thoroughbred and asked if I was going to ride her. Of course I couldn't say no! I jammed my foot in a stirrup (bad sign), swung up, collected my reins, noticed she was in Goblin's goofy rope halter/hackamore (BAD! SIGN!), and she was off. She perked up both of her ears as high as she could and pranced away, just pleased as pie that a human was finally back on her back! She picked up a soft slow trot and I realized that my steering was really "mushy." Sat back and asked for a halt and she completely ignored me (more likely, didn't understand me.)

Stupid Funder, she's never been ridden in a stupid little rope halter fffffffff

I calmly trotted a big circle back toward the merrily chatting group of people and asked for someone to please grab her. They were all "Whaaaaat?" I very calmly repeated myself and explained that she HAD NO BRAKES, and somebody grabbed her halter as we walked past, and WHEW.

But of course that wasn't much of a ride, and Promise's eyes were sparkling, and I happened to have a bunch of snaffle bits in my truck... so I bitted her up (5" single jointed copper snaffle) and we took off again. As soon as I stuck my foot in the stirrup I remembered that thing that had been bugging me before I realized she had no steering and no brakes - my feet were stuck. I was riding in T's saddle, which has those stupid narrow Western stirrups, and I was wearing my muck boots, and my feet were stuck.

Oh well! Promise was just overjoyed that I was riding her again. I am not exaggerating, and I'm not mistaking exhausted or terrified for overjoyed. That mare was happy to have a rider. She didn't want to buck, and she didn't (quite) want to canter off with me, but she really wanted to trot super gracefully around and impress me. And she DID impress me!

The bit made all the difference in the world. The lightest contact would steer her, just like it ought to, and she listened when I asked her to stop. We did a couple laps around the front part of the field and I asked her to stop and she did, just a little reluctantly. I really enjoyed her (although feeling like my feet are stuck makes me pretty panicky) and I'm definitely going to ride her again - but I don't want to overdo it!

And just to note it, I took Dixie on a nice trail ride ALONE yesterday. She did fine; I'm planning on taking her again tomorrow and I'll have more to say about her then!